Leonard Francis, the Malaysian defense contractor better known as ‘Fat Leonard,” has pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges. Francis has admitted to bribing scores of naval officers. Some with cash, some with prostitutes, and others with travel and luxuries.
This scandal is a rather remarkable chapter for the U.S. Navy. Not so much as it shows the corruption endemic in dealing with this procurement, especially in the Western Pacific, but that it was updated for our current age.
Fat Leonard wasn’t satisfied with what graft could come his way; he actively sought out classified information on ship’s movements and repair schedules so he could steer those repairs to ports where he had more influence and his “machine’ could make even more money off of the Navy.
The high point of his schemes appears to be when he had an aircraft carrier rerouted to a Malaysian port in 2010. This port was, of course, owned by Francis.
Although the Navy has established a more comprehensive method of scrutinizing contracts, it still has not answered the question of how a scheme that overbilled the Navy by as much as $20 million could have happened in the first place.
“It is astounding that Leonard Francis was able to purchase the integrity of Navy officials by offering them meaningless material possessions and the satisfaction of selfish indulgences,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
The Navy has not closed the investigation. So far, seven Navy officials have been identified and there is every possibility that more will be named as the investigation continues. Francis has been in business with the Navy for 25 years, the likelihood that these seven officials, including four Navy officers, are the only people tainted by this scandal is slim.
So far, the charges are specific to the time between 2009 and 2013. Francis faces up to 25 years in federal prison and will be sentenced in April. According to the plea agreement, Francis and his company will forfeit $35 million.
Unfortunately, scandals are par for the course when dealing with a huge government hegemony like the Navy, or any branch of the armed forces, but the sheer audacity of Fat Leonard’s schemes make you wonder just how high up the corruption spread. Although it is conceivable that a Navy Commander could reroute ships to one of Francis’ ports once or twice, for it to be happening all of the time without any investigation into who authorized it or why is mind boggling.
Let’s hope that the investigators have rooted out all of the people who accepted bribes, who allowed their responsibilities to be suborned by material wealth and objects, but, as we have seen with so many other scandals, the corruption will most likely be swept under the rug, some high-profile people will be prosecuted and the people who want to get rich off of bilking the service will come up with some other scheme.
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